“We learn from history that we never learn anything from history.”
In October last year, the Italian cyclist Mauro Santambrogio opened up his smartphone, browsed to the twitter app, typed in two words and pressed ‘send’.
Four months earlier, Santambrogio had been informed by the UCI that he had tested positive for EPO during the Giro d’Italia. He had won a stage of the race and finished ninth overall, it was by some distance his best ever performance in a Grand Tour.
But his joy at such an achievement did not last long. Having previously been mentioned as part of the Mantova investigation, this time there was little doubt – he was a doper. He lost his job, was facing a two year suspension and his life would never quite be the same.
Then, that October evening, Santambrogio sent out his chilling tweet:
In December last year, news broke that Michael Rogers had tested positive for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup. On the same day, another rider also tested positive for the same substance, the lesser known Jonathan Breyne.
Rogers, being a member of a World Tour team, was much more to the forefront of the headlines. Breyne on the other hand was an afterthought in the cycling news of the day. But privately, it was Breyne who was suffering greater consequences.
The day following the news of his positive test, Breyne attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills.
Recently I came across an article where Belgian cycling physician Dr Roland Marlier made a number of proposals to the UCI Medical Commission regarding reforms on anti-doping procedures.
These reforms included:
- To institute a system of licensing for doctors attached to cycling teams.
- To give more thought to the method of publishing of doping control results, publishing ‘positives’ only after a counter-check has been made.
- To allow the rider to be advised by a lawyer and a medical counsellor in cases of alleged doping.
The first point is something which has become more and more relevant in recent years as doctors like Michele Ferrari, Pedro Celaya and Eufemiano Fuentes have all received sanctions from the UCI. There are now UCI rules pertaining to who can and cannot be hired as a team doctor and the specific qualifications they must hold but these rules are currently not enforced.
With regards to the second point, according to the UCI’s own rules, in the case of a positive ‘A’ sample, they are only required to notify the rider, the national federation of the rider and the national anti-doping agency of the rider. In spite of this, it is the UCI’s tendency to release details of positive ‘A’ samples on their website.
The third point is one which has been addressed by the Australian anti-doping agency. They state on their website:
“This initiative provides an athlete, who has been notified of a possible anti-doping rule violation, with free access to independent and confidential counseling with qualified professionals…The aim of this initiative is to provide short-term counseling and strategies to help individuals deal with very stressful and potentially life-changing circumstances.”
Thus far, Australia is the only country in the world which provides this service to its athletes.
Fortunately for Mauro Santambrogio and Jonathan Breyne, both men are still alive, unfortunately for the entire sport, none of the reforms suggested above have been adopted by the UCI as policy.
But what is the most unfortunate thing of all, is this – the article I read containing these reform proposals was written in a cycling magazine from 1973.